To start - avoid all the stuff –
-Have a ruthless registry. Register for a couple awesome toys/décor items so that people can see your style. Maybe the same with clothing – put on a couple basic items in the fabric you want (organic, for example) or a couple pieces that show your style (robots! hot dogs!). The majority of registry stuff should be quality useful/practical items. Hopefully people will get the memo.
-Don’t take tags off/unpack anything. This is a hard one. But just have it in the closet, know it is there, and if suddenly you are like, wow a tickle-me Elmo would be perfect in this situation, then you can open it. Otherwise, you can donate/re-gift/Craigslist it when your baby outgrows it/you need the space for all the other stuff that invades. (Also, remember that most household items serve dual purpose. Wooden spoons are awesome teethers…a coin in an Altoids tin is a super rattle…dishcloths are good burpcloths - and way more fashionable!...etc…)
-Don’t buy things on your own…at least not in advance. Take people’s cast-offs and gifts as the goodwill that it is. Try to make those things work. In the moment, when you are like, jeez, my kid just keeps giving himself a black eye with this wooden rattle, we really need a soft rattle, you can Amazon Prime it to arrive in 48 hours. (Amazon Family is free for a year!) You really just never know what your baby/situation is going to demand – you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to anticipate everything you might need.
-Toy rotation! Babies only need a couple toys, but once they get a little older they begin to amass more. But the trick is to only keep a couple out at a time. Rotate them twice a month or whatever from the closet to the bedroom/living room. It’s new again!
This Itzbeen Pocket Timer changed my life as a first-time mom. I get it for all new moms. There are certainly cellphone apps that do the same thing. But you can leave this out so your partner knows that baby’s diaper was changed 2 hours ago without waking you or getting into your phone’s app to check. It also a has a “freebie” button which is good for medicine, etc. A game changer. Also get a good see-at-night clock on the baby’s bedroom wall. You will honestly have no idea what time it is for so much of the time.
Car seat – 2 options – an all-in-one or 2 separate seats, an infant and then a larger seat. We opted for the two. Because infant seats pop in and out of base, allowing you to move sleeping baby from car to house to daycare, etc. Also, because it was winter and I could get him all tucked into his seat inside and then carry the seat out. Infant seats also pop into most strollers, allowing for more support for infants than the standard stroller seat. We did the Graco Snug Ride and then the Britax Marathon which is pricey, but will last him until he can just sit in the car itself.
For the second kiddo we got a Combi, which is amazingly lightweight for travel and can fit three across in a standard backseat!
Stroller – I’d recommend two.
A teeny tiny umbrella stroller for taking baby to restaurants with no space and for travel though baby won’t be able to sit in an umbrella stroller for about 6 months, so this isn’t a need-immediately item. We have this one, which has since been discontinued. I'd now recommend the Summer stroller.
The primary stroller is a hard choice. There are a ton of awesome ones on the market. They break down into $100-200, $500ish, and $1000+ options. We took the middle ground, hoping it would last for all of our (potential) children and then be resalable. You are looking for wheels that work on your ground – we have very uneven sidewalks – we also wanted puncture proof ones because of all the broken glass on the sidewalks. Adjustable handles (though you really have to test drive them to see if they work for your stride – like walk through the store pushing it), multiple seat heights, a good sun shade, and compatibility with your carseat if you are going that route. We ended up with the Mamas and Papas Urbo and then just bought an adapter to make the carseat we chose work.
But good to register for both car seats/both strollers if you are going that route. People can be generous. (Note: if you've got a toddler, I totally recommend picking up a sit-and-stand stroller on Craigslist.)
Breast pump – I don’t know your situation, but I think everyone needs a good manual pump. The Medela Harmony is a good option. I always carried one in my bag with me. And if you’ll be away from your baby for long, you’ll want a good double-electric pump. Obamacare covered this with a prescription, so call your insurance before you register. Medela is the go-to brand and has excellent customer support if you need it.
Bottles – We did standard Evenflo glass bottles for a while until we found out our first baby had acid reflux and we had to switch to Dr. Brown’s. There are a lot of gimmicky bottles out there, but these really are proven to help with acid reflux…and its just a good company. In retrospect, we should have just started with them. He makes glass ones too.
Diapers – If you are thinking about cloth diapers…when they are tiny, I think it is best to have a 2-part system with an inner liner and an outer cover. Duo Snap Wraps are the best covers out there because of the leg gusset – and you can use anything inside that you’d like. I liked the Kissaluvs fleece liners the best of what we tried. Thirsties Fab Wipes are the best cloth wipes on the market.
The second stage/bigger babies, I highly recommend an All-In-One diaper. We have a combination of BumGenius Elemental and Freetime. Shop around for the best deals in multiple quantities - http://www.cottonbabies.com/index.php?cPath=98
When baby gets older and has more solid poop, I recommend Bummi’s liners – both their fleece reusable liners (though you can make your own) and their flushable ones.
We just use a lidded trashcan and a washable liner as a “dry pail”. I carry a gallon size Ziploc in the diaper bag. They have specialty stuff for all of that, which I’m sure is super nice, but you don’t really need it.
Bathtub – The Tummy Tub rocks because the baby is submerged and therefore warmer and therefore hates baths less. But, I also showered with him a lot while on maternity leave, and so I used one of these sponge mats in the back of the shower, to lay him on while getting in/out and rinsing my hair – just because it dries faster than laying down a big towel.
Highchair – while expensive, I recommend the Stokke Tripp Trapp or a look-alike. Since he eats at the table for us for all his meals, I wanted something that was table height and looked like it belonged. He’ll be able to use it forever.
Monitor – For our first child, we went with a standard radio monitor. I thought I’d drive myself insane staring at the video feed all the time, and they were double the price, so we got this one from Philips. The temperature reading was important to me because we live in a very drafty house. It lasted three years of daily use, but with the second kid we decided to upgrade. Since for #2 we are not doing a crib, just a Montessori-style bed, I wanted to be able to see him. We went with the midlevel Motorola.
But I’ve known some parents that live in a one-level place that don’t use a monitor at all. You might be able to get one on Craigslist if it isn’t a priority.
Sleeping - If you are going the crib route, like we did with our first child, I'd recommend looking at the BabyMod line at Walmart. I don't usually shop there, but this line has eco-friendly, well-designed cribs at affordable prices. Often you can get a deal where they come with a free mattress, and ours was free shipping. (For crib sheets, these Quick Zip-Off Crib Sheets ones are awesome for middle-of-the-night threw-up-on-everything sheet changes. We had three tops, and that worked well.)
If you want a bassinet, which we are doing for our second, I highly recommend the Baby Home Portable Bassinet. It flips to wheels or rockers depending on your need, can fold up decently small for travel, and you can use king pillowcases as sheets to save money.
It wasn't available with my newborns, but I wish I'd had a Dock-A-Tot or a Cubby Cove. I'd buy one of those in an instant.
-Pacifier – Soothies
-Feeding pillow – Boppy (which I used constantly for my first, and not at all for my second)
-Mobile – I crafted a cute little mobile and it looked beautiful but did nothing for baby. This Fisher Price projection mobile, however, was a life saver .
-Infant bouncer/ lounger chair - With the first kid, we took hand-me-downs and freebies, and that was great. With the second, we splurged on the Bjorn Balance Bouncer and it is amazing.
Things to get at a garage sale/Craigslist/secondhand:
-Infant chair/lounger (I recommend one for each floor of your house, or at least an extra for the bathroom/kitchen.)
-Play-yard/Pack and Play – many people use this as a bassinet or bed. For the first kid we used it rarely, but for number two it was a permanent set-up in the front room. It is also good for grandparents to have/borrow from someone, if you are traveling to them.
-Clothes – don’t register for clothes unless you really see something you really can’t live without – people will buy them for you anyway.
-All toys – you need very little in the beginning, a couple bright balls, an easy to grasp soft toy, a rattle or two, some black and white contrast books and you are good to go.